Cornwall: Rick Stein’s Café, Middle Street Padstow PL28 8AP. Phone: 01841 532700
Rick Stein famously owns multiple dining and retail outlets in Padstow, and we chose this more casual little bistro tucked into a side street. Everything is heavily Rickified, half of the short wine list being special Rick Stein bottlings, of which a Vermentino was good (£22), though a Verdejo had slightly more personality (£30). First a word for the Coombeshead Sourdough; the best sourdough I have tasted, possibly the best bread I have tasted. After that, the food was good but to be honest, not particularly more distinguished than in any of Padstow’s other good restaurants that we visited. Salt and pepper prawns came in their shells, served with lots of refreshing cucumber shards, spinach and drenched in a soy and nutty sesame dressing, and this was a very nice dish. To follow I chose cod fish cakes, with a mixed leaf salad and aioli. Now I know cod is rarely the most flavoursome fish so maybe this was a boring choice, but the dish was quite pedestrian. Coffees and teas rounded the evening off (though I’d skip the decaf coffee if I was you) and all in all, four of us enjoyed the two course and a couple of bottles of wine, for £100 per couple.
Cornwall: The Mussel Box, 11 Broad St Padstow PL28 8BS. Phone: 01841 532846
Right on the harbour, this is basically a pavement café on the flagstones that has a structure of roof and glazed walls that open, to give shelter from the sun/rain/deluge of passing visitors as you eat. We lucked out with a lovely table facing the boats and settled in for very good food and friendly, relaxed service. Mussels are on offer in a variety of guises, but I began with fried calamari with a home-made chipotle sauce and micro coriander, which was really good: spicy and peppery, the calamari crab cake, served with samphire, wakame and spinach salad. This too was fresh and there was plenty of white crab meat in evidence, the dish nicely enriched by a fennel crab sauce. With a bottle of Picpoul at £27, an honest and tasty lunch served in the heart of the tourist throng around the harbour.
Cornwall: Green’s, North Quay Padstow PL28 8AF. Phone: 01841 532002
Just slightly off the harbour and up the slope near the ferry slipway, there’s a broad terrace with plenty of seating as well as an indoor space. Queuing for breakfast may be necessary, but will be worth it with excellent coffee and French toast, golden brioche with a heap of summer berries in a compote and dollop of thick Greek yoghurt – delicious. Returning for dinner (which can be reserved) was an equally delightful experience I must say, with very welcoming staff and a nice menu including some specials, on this occasion a quite delicious and perfectly cooked Ray wing, served with buttered potatoes and lots of greens in a powerfully tangy caper, butter and lemon sauce. Before that, I had the local beef carpaccio, with plenty of rocket, shaved Parmesan and a balsamic glaze, which was spot-on. We had started on an excellent Vinho Verde from the Monçao cooperative, which was so delicious on a balmy evening that we stuck with it (£25 a bottle), and on this occasion did linger over desserts. The special of a pistachio and raspberry tart served with vanilla ice cream was declared a real winner, though my wild and local strawberry Pavlova, indulgently served with a quenelle of clotted cream on top, was fabulous. All in, around £100 for two for three courses and a bottle of Vinho Verde. For dinner, reservations are essential. Breakfast and lunch, walk-up only (no bookings).
Cornwall: Caffe Rojano, 9 Mill Square Padstow PL28 8AE. Phone: 01841 532796
Michelin-starred Paul Ainsworth’s second-string bistro in Padstow has a Mediterranean, mostly Italian menu. Split over two levels, four of us had a nice table by a window upstairs, and after a bottle of Pol Roger at the bar settled in for food, quicky deciding on pizzas from their wood-fired oven. But before that, croquetas were superb: three perfect, golden-fried morsels of Serrano ham and manchego cheese, scented with thyme and creamy and delicious. My pizza choice was Fiorentina, and it was very good, the base singed round the edges, a thin sourdough. Piled on top, plenty of cheese, garlic and spinach, olives and a soft-boiled St. Ewe egg. We added a bottle of 2018 Rioja Crianza from Bodegas LAN (£45) and a couple of glasses of Framingham Sauvignon Blanc for a total bill for four of £260.
Cornwall: The Harbour Kitchen, Station Rd Padstow PL28 8DB. Phone: 01841 532846
Within the imposing Padstow Harbour Hotel that sits above Rick Stein’s gourmet restaurant on the harbour, this was good quality, if unexceptional, hotel dining. A dish of in-season asparagus was tasty, served with crushed avocado and a nicely poached egg, cod and crab cakes were good, with enough crab to satisfy, then a slice of proper baked cheescake to finish. Ken Forrester Old Vine Chenin was well price at £32 per bottle and the whole bill of £125 for two was OK for what we ate. Open daily for lunch, dinner and afternoon tea.
Cornwall: Prawn on the Lawn, 11 Duke St Padstow PL28 8AB. Phone: 07926 128148
Be aware that Prawn on the Lawn as reviewed here is a seasonal venue, popping up in a marquee on a farm a few miles outside the town. The address above is their fish shop where a smaller restaurant is open in the winter months. Four of us indulged in a large array of small plates, quality of all being excellent with, for example, courgette flowers stuffed with prawn, scallops, mussels & clams, then a little tranche of seared tuna nicely pink in the centre, pan-fried hake, a shellfish stew, and plenty of the wonderful sourdough from Coombeshead bakery. The bill for four, with two bottles of Billecart Brut Champagne (£65), came to £285 before service. Check for location and opening hours.
Cornwall: Trevibban Mill, Padstow PL27 7SE. Phone: 01841 541413
Ten minutes by taxi from Padstow, this vineyard and orchard has invested in extensive visitor facilities, including a large restaurant with wrap-around terrace and garden seating, for tastings and light lunches. We booked a table on the terrace, and passing on the tasting flights, just went straight for some food platters and our own choice of wines: the 2014 Blanc de Blancs zero dosage was yeasty, meaty, dry and appley, while the 2018 Blanc de Noirs had more dosge and easy drinking appeal (£42 per bottle). Platters of local cheeses were served with biscuits and crusty bread, and Serrano ham was sliced to order. It was a lovely way to while away a sunny and warm afternoon, grazing and sipping at a relaxed pace. £150 for four, all-in.
Cornwall: The Harbour Fish and Grill, North Quay Hill NewquayTR7 1HF. Phone: 01637 873040
An old grain store built into the cliff and overlooking the harbour and several of Newquay’s beaches, the outside seating is understandably popular but on a slightly blustery day we secured a table by a large picture window in the conservatory area off of the bar. A smiling surf dude served us efficiently. I started with breaded squid with a truffle emulsion (thankfully light on the truffle oil) that came as a plentiful basket full of beautifully tender squid dusted with grated Parmesan, and which was surprisingly substantial and delicious. My second choice was maybe a bit ill-considered, but I have to say, deliciously so, as it was in some ways quite similar, and again involved the deep fryer: seafood tempura with a home-made tartare sauce was fabulous, the batter so crisp and feather-light. I counted prawns, monkfish, sea trout and, I think, cod among the pile of tempura chunks that were served with the very tangy sauce. Along with a bottle of Verdicchio at £34, the bill for four came to £210 for a lovely lunch in a casual spot. Open daily.
Cornwall: St Enedoc, Wadebridge, Rock PL27 6LA. Phone: 01208 863394
The restaurant of a smart and chic hotel in Rock, the five minute ferry ride across the estuary from Padstow added to the fun of lunch here. St Enedoc has lovely gardens and views down to the estuary from a broad terrace were we took drinks before heading inside to escape the heat and glare of the sun off the water. Salt and pepper squid was very good, obviously fresh and not frozen as so often when it appears on menus, and the sea trout too was meaty and substantial, served simply with boiled new potatoes and greens. A light and simple lunch of good quality at £24 per person for two course (£30 for three). We had a bottle of Pouilly-Fumé from Nicholas Gaudry at £45, from a really rather good list running from £25 to £90 per bottle.
Cornwall: Harbour House Hotel, Esplanade, Fowey PL23 1HX. Phone: 01726 832551
Booked having read about it on a website purportedly listing the best cream teas in Cornwall. All I can say is that if this is one of the best, I’d hate to experience one of the worst. It’s a big hotel high above the estuary with admittedly charming views, but really, a soulless corporate experience from start to finish with slightly stale sandwiches, unimaginative fillings, even more stale scones and some sad looking cakes. From the hard bread, to the little pots of Tiptree jam, this was mass-catering food, not doubt delivered off the back of a lorry. A very poor rendition of the famous Cornish afternoon cream tea. £20 a head – but don’t go.
Older South of England Reviews
Dorset: Summer Lodge Hotel, Evershot. Phone: 01935 482000
Summer Lodge’s restaurant is a comfortable room with floral, padded-fabric walls and a very bourgeois French feel. Executive chef Steven Titman was lured from the highly acclaimed White Barn Inn in Maine, and Alsace-born Eric Zwiebel was Sommelier of the Year in 2004. He has put together a phenomenal list of almost 1,000 bins with, for example, 32 Champagnes. France is very well represented, but there are interesting bits and pieces from every corner of the globe. My stay at Summer Lodge happened to coincide with a Portuguese food and wine evening that kicked off at 7:00pm with canapés and a glass of wine before a very refined four-course dinner. Salt cod with dressed rocket and lemon aïoli was subtly flavoured, with a tang to the dressing that didn’t overpower the flaky, perfectly cooked fish. Gressingham duck came seared on the outside, nicely pink inside, with an aromatic broth of tomato and coriander. This was a sociable occasion, and taking coffee in the lounge after dinner I discovered that many of my fellow guests were refugee Londoners who enjoy regular country weekends at Summer Lodge. That speaks volumes about the welcome on offer here. Dinner £60, rooms from £185 per night, bed and breakfast.
Hampshire: 36 On the Quay, South St, Emsworth. Phone: 01243 375592
Restaurant 36 On the Quay is located in the picturesque fishing village of Emsworth, between Chichester and Portsmouth, overlooking the bay. There are four well-appointed bedrooms above the restaurant. Owners Ramon and Karen Farthing have steadily built up this establishment since they moved here with their young family in 1996. Fish is a speciality here and Karen has worked hard to create an interesting 250-bin wine list to match Ramon’s stunningly artistic food creations. The à la Carte menu, which changes quarterly, has five starters, five main courses and five desserts, there are daily specials too. I began with pan-fried scallops, accompanied by a hazelnut sablé tartlet with creamed leeks, complemented by an apple and asparagus reduction. My partner chose quail breast and braised leg placed on glazed baby shallots, poached prunes and pickled enoki mushrooms finished with a lightly smoked bacon stock. Both starters were delicious. We were seriously impressed with the main courses, including a roast loin of lamb, grilled liver and sweetbreads, served with a fondant potato, creamed celeriac dice and thyme gravy. I opted for a 36’s speciality rhubarb dessert, which was a platter of four miniature dishes: a sorbet, mousse, hot rhubarb and ginger crumble and a hot soufflé – orgasmic! We opted for a half bottle of Château Carbonnieux (£40), which went very well with our starters, and followed up with a bottle of 1985 Château La Rose Marbuzet, a 3eme cru classé at £70. Three courses plus coffee and service came to £250 Tuesday to Friday for lunch, Monday to Saturday for dinner. No-Smoking
Hertfordshire: Auberge du Lac, Lemsford. Phone: 01707 368888
This elegantly furnished two-star restaurant, with magnificent floral displays, is in a beautiful setting in the midst of the parkland of Brocket Hall. I revisited this restaurant after Chef-Patron, Jean-Christophe Novelli had departed. The room layout and décor remains the same, though following Covid-enforced closure, only a 9 course Tasting Menu is currently being offered at £95. Lunch and a la carte menus should resume in 2023. After the amuse-bouche of asparagus cappuccino with cheese and herb mousse, I started with char-grilled cumin scented scallops with cauliflower, crab and vegetable spring roll: a little complex with clashing flavours. My partner chose pepper coated seared tuna with avocado and lime mousse, salsa verde and a radish salad. This too was rather complicated, with the pepper overpowering the more delicate flavours.I followed with aromatic steamed fillet of turbot with crème fraiche, caviar linguine and gewürztraminer velouté – a disaster. Stodgy linguine and salty creamed leeks, did not work with the overcooked turbot. My partner’s choice of pan seared spiced tournedos of monkfish with baby gem pureé, boulangerie potato and shellfish beurre noisette was again too complicated with conflicting flavours. The pre-dessert, a weird combination of mango cream, chilli jelly and coconut foam actually worked quite well! The desserts, made by Martin Towse, were excellent. Chocolate orange ravioli with white chocolate, orange ice cream and walnuts was delightful as was the port poached pear with prune samosas and bitter chocolate ice cream. We enjoyed a South African Tokara White for £45.00. Open Wednesday to Saturday lunch and dinner, Sunday lunch only at time of review..
Berkshire: l’Ortolan, Church Lane, Shinfield RG2 9BY. Tel 0118 988 8500
The prosecco wines of Bisol are old favourites of wine-pages.com, so when an invitation arrived to check out the Gourmet tasting menu at l’Ortolan matched to Bisol wines, it was graciously accepted. We started the proceedings with a glass of Bisol’s ‘Jeio’ Prosecco di Valdobbiadene to accompany a delicious assortment of canapés. The pre-starter, a gazpacho and olive oil purée had pronounced flavours of tomato, pepper and onion. The first course of Avocado mousse and asparagus salad with pâté Negra, parmesan and a lemon oil dressing followed. This was served with Bisol’s ‘Crede’ Prosecco di Valdobbiadene. The delicate flavours of the mousse matched the light apple and pear notes of the wine beautifully. The presentation of the next course, the foie gras ‘sandwich’, was extraordinary. The garnish of morello cherry and fig slice together with the concentrated flavour of the sliced duck foie married extremely well with the Bisol 2004 ‘Garnei’ Prosecco di Valdobbiadene. The John Dory served with white bean cassoulet and pea velouté was a dish of complex textures and rich flavours. This was accompanied by a still wine, Bisol’s ‘Molera’ Prosecco di Valdobbiadene. The apricot and floral notes in the wine paired well with the richness of this dish. The main course, roasted chump and braised shoulder of new season’s lamb, with basil pomme purée, roasted tomatoes, tapenade and a mousse of red peppers, ginger and spiced aubergine was a complicated looking dish. The chosen wine, Bisol’s 2004 ‘Cartizze’ Prosecco di Valdobbiadene, appeared to create a challenge. This combination was inspired: I would never have matched a sweet ripe fruity wine with this type of dish, but it worked surprisingly well. The Tasting Menu is priced at £95 per person, a lunch menu is available at £49 per person.Tuesday to Saturday for lunch and dinner.
Wiltshire: The Harrow at Little Bedwyn, Marlborough SN8 3JP. Tel 01672 870871
Sadly Roger Jones decided to close his restaurant in 2020, though still offers a takeaway menu (collection only).
Before the restaurants, a quick plug for one of the best wine shops in Britain; maybe the world. If you are in Manchester, why not drive 30 miles north to the small town of Clitheroe and visit D. Byrne’s wonderful shop for a breathtaking range and very reasonable prices: massive strength in depth with wines from every corner of the world.
Cheshire: Chez Jules, 71 Northgate, Chester CH1 2HQ. Phone: 01244 400014
In its 24th year of serving French brasserie food to the people of Chester, we dined on a Tuesday evening when, remarkably enough, diners can choose two courses from the full menu, along with a full bottle of wine per person, for £25 all-in. We decided against that, choosing the house Champagne at £39.99 per bottle to drink along with some ‘snacks’ from the menu: pork and apple croquettes – three ample and delicious portions – with a sage mayo, and tapenade tartine. For mains, breast of free-range chicken with a mushroom cream was very good, as was my partner’s asparagus and goat’s cheese filo tart. Accompanying was a big sharing bowl of dauphinoise potatoes which was suitably creamy and garlicky, and red cabbage, sweet glazed carrots and mange tout. All in all the food was really well cooked. Desserts beckoned and did not disappoint, with a proper baked cheesecake, no messing about with extraneous flavours, just a nicely rich but not too heavy cheesy cheesecake, served with honeycomb, segments of blow-torched orange and a quenelle of orange cream. With a bill of £90 for two before service this offered great value, even without partaking of the Tuesday night deal.
Cheshire: The Boathouse, The Groves, Chester CH1 1SD. Phone: 01244 328709
The riverside in Chester is a hugely popular summer spot, with regular boat trips departing and boats for hire, and a handful of dining choices. Along at the far end of the riverfront walkway is a large pub with rooms called The Boathouse, which also has a large outdoor terrace and additional seating on a barge moored alongside. Service was slow and patchy, but with the hospitality trade’s post lock-down and Brexit problems, that can be forgiven. Sitting on the riverside watching the procession of boaters and rowers passing was a very relaxing way to spend a couple of hours. Not being too hungry, two of their ‘small plates’ made for a good lunch, beginning with a Caprese salad that was slightly tasteless, but fresh and suited the sunny outdoor scene, then a rather good small portion of salt and pepper squid, crunchy on the outside and nicely cooked inside. My first wine choice of Chablis was out of stock, as was my second, so an eventual third choice of a South African Chenin at just £22 was decent. £55 for two including service.
Cheshire: Abode Brasserie, Grosvenor Rd, Chester CH1 2DJ. Phone: 01244 405820
With its fifth four location in a boutique hotel, surroundings are modern and glossy with a nice view over Chester racecourse and welcoming staff who provided efficient, friendly service. I started with a burrata, fig and tomato salad which was excellent, lots of flavour in the tomatoes, very creamy and sweet burrata and delicate slices of nicely ripe figs. But the experience adds up to only a very average indeed because of the main course: pea and mint ravioli was a shocker: thick, chewy, over-cooked pasta, lots of dry cheese shaved on top and two big chunks of slightly incongruous broccoli. With no sauce to speak of, the meagre mushy pea filling to the pasta could not save a dry and really very poor dish. Add in £64 for a bottle of their decent house Champagne, very average coffees, and the whole experience flattered to deceive. A gloss of fine dining over fairly average food. £120 for two courses for two plus coffee.
Cumbria: L’Enclume, Cartmel. Phone: 015395 36362
I’m afraid my opinion of this restaurant is severely juandiced by appalling customer service that I experienced. Having really enjoyed a meal there in 2021, I immediately booked a two night accommodation and dinner package for a celebration 11 months later in 2022. Shortly before, I received a call to tell me that my reservation had been cancelled for operational reasons. They also informed me that they were fully booked and there was no attempt to accommodate me, other than six months after our special occasion. This restaurant is off my list, but should you choose to give them your custom, dinner is £250 per person excluding drinks and service.
Cumbria: Table 22 @ The Regent Hotel, Ambleside LA22 0ES. Phone: 015394 32254
In Waterhead Bay, at the top of Lake Windermere. It’s a popular spot, with boat hires and pleasure cruises departing, and a 10 minute walk from the centre of Ambleside. We stayed in the Regent Hotel for a few nights, eating in their Table 22 restaurant (open to non-residents) after a long drive from Cornwall. To be honest it was OK rather than good and could not be whole-heartedly recommended. Some pretty good scallops to start where nicely pan-roasted, but let down by the rather stodgy risotto beneath that was on the verge of cloying. Slow-cooked blade of beef was competent if a little pedestrian. I know I am damning with faint praise, but along with slightly odd, unengaged service I wouldn’t be rushing back. £110 for two courses for two, with a modest bottle of wine and service included.
Cumbria: Fellini’s, Church St, Ambleside LA22 0BT. Phone: 015394 324872
Fellini’s is a busy and bustling vegetarian restaurant, housed within a small arts cinema complex in the town. It served quite upmarket Italianate food of good quality, with friendly staff and is worth considering for a casual meal. Around £90 for two with a modest bottle of wine. Open daily for dinner only.
Lancashire: Northcote, Northcote Road, Blackburn BB6 8BE. Phone: 01254 240 555
Chef Lisa-Goodwin-Allen certainly falls into the ‘Celebrity Chef’ category, and is clearly a very busy woman, but whoever was cooking on my 2022 visit was doing a marvellous job. Northcote was sold a couple of years ago to the Stafford Group who also run the 5* The Stafford in London, and it seems they have ambitious plans to expand. For now, not much has changed since my previous visit in 2016, and that is absolutely not a complaint. The five-course gourmet menu (plus canapes and petit-fours) costs £115, with a couple of choices of matching wine flights if that’s they way you want to go. Instead we drank Roederer Champagne at a very reasonable £90 per bottle (£50 retail) and an excellent Chablis 1er Cru Fourchaume at £52 for a half bottle. All five courses were terrific, but I will pick out three highlights: roasted veal sweetbread was beautifully caramelised on the outside, but cooked to butter-soft, yielding texture, a deeply-flavoured and concentrated jus was rich with tarragon and studded with tangy capers, with the clever addition of sliced fresh mushroom on top to add a contrasting texture and flavour. The main course of guinea hen came as a perfectly roasted breast plus a little boudin noir sausage of leg and gamier meat. The accompaniments here worked so well: fermented gooseberry, sweet turnip and elderflower, giving all sorts of top and bass notes to the dish. The dessert was a wonderful evocation of summer too: English strawberries with yuzu-flavoured yoghurt and sorrel, much more complex than it sounds and totally refreshing. Northcote is a busy and bustling dining room, and on my visit service was slightly under pressure, but that did not detract from the quality of the food here. Open Wednesday to Sunday for lunch and dinner. Menus start from £48 for lunch.
Lancashire: The New Inn, Yealand Conyers LA5 9SJ. Phone: 01524 805037
This 16th century inn in the tiny hamlet of Yealand Conyers has recently been renovated to a high standard with extremely comfortable rooms and an excellent gastro-pub food offering. Add in lovely gardens for a pre-dinner drink and it’s a fine place to spend a night or too. We took dinner there twice, and both were good. Highlights included a flavoured-packed starter salad of burrata and confit tomatoes, with crunchy crostini wafers and liberally doused in pesto and olive oil. It’s pretty much modern comfort food all the way, like a main of pulled lamb leg, spicy and soft, and melting under the threat of a fork, with garlic mashed potato, spicy parsnip purée, and a mint and almond pesto. Dinner will cost around £35 – £40 per person for three courses, and though the short wine list is not particularly inspiring, there’s enough choice with prices running from around £20 to £50 per bottle. Open seven days for lunch and dinner.